By Gary Ferry

There is just no hiding the enthusiasm that Craig Thompson has for life, for sport and in particular rugby and City of Derry.

Once an ambitious hooker with Foyle College firsts, a back injury curtailed Craig’s playing days somewhat, but his road since has been nothing short of spectacular, with the 22-year-old – let that sink in, the 22-year-old… one of the online world’s most famous vloggers and gamers, and a millionaire to boot.

Known as ‘Mini Ladd’, he has made his name and his fortune by creating one of Youtube’s best gaming channels, posting vlogs (video blogs) about the latest games across all platforms. It has been an unusual but highly beneficial career direction for the former Foyle College student, who returned home on Saturday for the launch of the brand new ‘Craig Thompson Stadium’ at Judges Road, after handing his local rugby club a significant sponsorship deal which will last ten years.

It is his way of giving back to a club which meant a lot to him in his formative years.

“I was coming to this rugby club maybe five times a year, probably even more than that to be honest with you, so this is kind of like a second home for me,” he reflected.

“My family pushed me to play rugby and pushed me to play cricket, just sports and getting into the local scene, which is why I started to come down to City of Derry a lot more. I completely fell in love with the game. I played firsts rugby for three years with Foyle, started to work towards the Ulster squad but I had a back injury which completely ruled me out of everything, and from there I started the whole YouTube thing.”

Starting his YouTube channel in May 2011, Craig is now coming up on six years in the business, but despite achieving worldwide fame, the young man who grew up in Eglinton with his parents and brother insists that he is still the same as he ever was.

“I try to keep my feet on the ground in terms of being grounded,” he explained. “It’s a lot easier to be yourself rather than be anyone else. I like to keep myself in and around my family and a close group of friends, because if you stay in and around a good group of people, life becomes a lot easier because there’s less drama and less fuss.

“Physically I am on a plane pretty much every week. I’ve been to London twice this week so far. I fly back on the 15th then fly out to Minnesota for Thanksgiving with my girlfriend’s family on the 21st. It doesn’t really stop but at the same time I love every second of it.”

Living the jet-setting lifestyle, Craig does not often get to see much rugby, which made his visit to Judges Road at the weekend all the more special. Despite his team losing convincingly to Rainey, it was still a memorable day for Mini Ladd, who even updated his site with a vlog live from the newly named stadium.

Sensation

The link between an online gaming sensation and City of Derry rugby club was an unpredictable one, but for a club that had its concerns financially before the start of the new season, it was certainly serendipity. That, and a connection with City of Derry Vice-Chairman Ian Stone.

“Ian was my former bank manager in the early days,” he said. “I asked the question, ‘How’s City of Derry going?’ and he said things were going alright but they could use a little bit of help and I asked if there was anything I could give back. I thought maybe I could sponsor the club, not expecting all this. It’s kind of like a win-win.

“I wanted to put as much money as I could towards the club because for me rugby is the common denominator for a lot of things, be it race, religion, colour, sexual orientation. It’s an escape really. It can be doom and gloom at times here so this is for me to say that I’m a local lad, I’m over in LA living this weird life that I live, just to show people that if you want to do something you can do it.

“I know there’s a lot of people in and around Northern Ireland who may have struck big and they have gone off and never really came back or never really gave back and forgot their roots. But for me, my family is still very, very rooted here so I wanted to give back because  rugby means a lot to me and it is my country where I had some of the best years of my life in.”

Still to come

The best years of Craig’s life may still be yet to come, and so far they have certainly been anything but predictable. Born in Dubai, he spent years at a time in Thailand and Singapore before moving to Eglinton at 10 years old. From Foyle College he moved on and took on a music Production degree at Hertfordshire university. That however lasted only two weeks as Craig decided he wanted to give the gaming life his full attention.

It was a pivotal moment.

He explained: “My mom believed in me, my dad believed in me, I believed in myself because I conjured up connections with other YouTube users and other sponsorship deals out there, to an extent  where I could give it a shot. It was just going to be a case of ‘if it works out , it works out, if it doesn’t it doesn’t. I’m blessed every day that it did.

“I never envisioned this blowing up to the size it has. Even thinking about it now still blows my mind. Whenever I got my first pay cheque where I could pay some of my bills, that’s when I started to get an inkling that maybe this could work. That was  few months after dropping out of university when I gave myself a chance to make this my full time thing, and from there it just escalated to more than I possibly could ever have imagined to where we are today.”

With 1 million subscribers, Mini Ladd has certainly exploded onto the scene, but despite the success, Craig is taking nothing for granted, knowing that in modern business and certainly in modern gaming, evolution is key.

“YouTube itself was only created in 2005 and if you think about how much it is used in today’s society, even Twitter and how much that is used in today’s society, so for me it’s kind of right place at the right time. There’s so many people doing it right now whereas when I first started there wasn’t as many people doing it,” he continued.

“There’s a lot of competition out there but it’s always nice to have one foot ahead of the game. I could get comfortable and keep doing the same thing again and again and again but I also know that if I want to stay relevant and on top I need to change up. No matter what job you’re in things are changing all the time and Youtube is hanging all the time.”

Realistic

Whilst watching City of Derry in action made Craig reminisce, he is realistic to know that, these days, he is better on screen than on the field of play.

That is where his passion lies, that is where his genius lies.

That is where his future lies.

“I’m waiting to wake up from this weird dream which the last four years of my life has been,” he laughed. “I can see the ‘Welcome to the Craig Thompson Stadium’ sign above me and realise what is going on online, I’m living the life that I always wanted to live. I have an amazing girlfriend, an amazing family and amazing support behind me, which is something I never personally thought I would ever get. It’s surreal but I’m just going with the flow.

“It’s kind of outside the box compared to anything else that happens in Derry/ Londonderry so this is kind of like the big reveal of everything that has been going on in my life the past few years. All my family live around here so it’s like coming back to home roots a bit. This is where I started the whole  YouTube journey which started in Eglinton back in my bedroom.”

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